Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Slate is Wrong / How to Cure Authoritarianism

Wait, they let babies into college now?

There is an article making the rounds right now that was initially posted on Slate.

In it, a Law Professor at U of Chicago, Eric Posner, argues that college students (he interestingly doesn’t specify age, just college students) should be denied most rights (such as free speech) because they are too immature to handle having rights and freedom.

The initial reaction, one would hope, is to decry this faux-intellectual milquetoast as an authoritarian monster who is damaging children. Don’t bother. took that tactic already. 

While (and I’m sure other sites) has pointed out that Mr. Posner has issues, let’s agree on three things.
  1. Yes. Mr. Poser is an authoritarian monster.
  2. Telling Mr. Posner that he’s an authoritarian monster isn’t likely to stop him from being an authoritarian monster.  So why bother telling him?
  3. Why can’t we persuade Mr. Poster that he’s a monster? Have you ever known someone to give up power willingly because you asked them nicely? Being in charge of thousands of college-age adults is essential to Mr. Posner’s identity. He needs to think of them as children so he can think of himself as an adult; even if he’s accomplished nothing of note that would otherwise signify adulthood. The childhood status of these legal adults is how Mr. Poser brand-identifies himself as an adult by proxy.

So, Mr. Poser is not going to have his mind changed on this issue. And regardless I’m sure many other people have written enough hate-pieces on him/to him. None of that helps solve the problem.

What we need to focus on is people who are persuaded by Mr. Posner’s arguments, and look to persuade them away from Mr. Posner’s arguments.

The person who reads Posner’s piece and thinks “He’s got a point. College kids today do seem awfully immature. ” –  Those people. How can we persuade them? How can we persuade them to reject authoritarianism and instead invest in the future of our younger generations? They are our only hope after all; who else is going to pay for our/Posner’s Social Security?

So these people who are sympathetic to Posner’s view point. How can we construct an argument to ‘save’ them?

To do that, let’s start with a throw-away line from Mr. Posner. He says:

 “Society seems to be moving the age of majority from 18 to 21 or 22.

Which implies that these college age adults didn’t used to be as immature as they are today. Yes? Something is different in the perception of ‘these kids todaythat makes it seem like they need more babying than previous kids, and need to be hand-held well into their 20’s (if not indefinitely).

This is the same thought process that all generations seem to go through the “back in my day we didn’t use to ________” syndrome. It’s common. “Uphill! Both ways!”

However, let’s say it’s true. Let’s get the people sympathetic to Mr. Posner to say that college-age adults today are far more immature than college-age adults were 10, 20, 30 years ago.

If the person sympathetic to Mr. Posner agrees to that, the next logical question is Why is it that college-age adults today are more immature than previous generations of college-age adults?”

Think about this. It’s important that you and those sympathetic to Mr. Poster answer the question before continuing.
Seriously. Why? Why are the college students more immature today?


The answer you came up with, presumably, is Helicopter Parenting.

Mr. Posner actually agrees with this answer. The reason college students today are more immature than college students of the past is helicopter parenting. He says as much twice. Here is Mr. Posner:

“One naturally wonders why this has become necessary. Perhaps over programmed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.” [emphasis mine]

“What is most interesting is that this reaction [wanting to be governed by the administration] comes not from parents and administrators, but from students themselves, who, apparently recognizing that their parents and schools have not fully prepared them for independence, want universities to resume their traditional role in loco parentis.”

Got that? According to Mr. Posner, risks and challenge are what breeds maturity. Write that down. It’s important.

So to recap the logic of Mr. Posner, and more important those who are sympathetic to his argument:

  1. College-age adults today are more immature than college-age adults of the past.
  2. The reason for this is many college age adults had helicopters for parents.
  3. The solution to this, the way to make the kids more mature is…………………….

More Helicopter Parenting?

Huh. That’s funny, I thought that’s what got us into this mess in the first place.

If college-age adults are indeed more immature today then the way to fix the problem is not by doing more of the same.

To quote Posner:

children [today] no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.”

Exactly. He’s 100% right. The solution is not more of the same; it’s less of the same.
The solution, if colleges actually want to build mature well-rounded adults, is to give them more autonomy and more freedom. To let them “experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.”

But won’t they stumble and fall?

Of course they will. But when they get back up on their own, they'll be better for it. 

In the meantime, if you like the blog, donate & share. 

And these books may help. 

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